After a week off thanks to their North Division regular season championship, the Alberta Midget Hockey League playoffs begin Thursday night for the Leduc Oil Kings on the road to the 2012 TELUS Cup.
The host team for this year’s National Midget Championship, April 23-29 at the Leduc Recreation Centre, the Oil Kings open the postseason on home ice against the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, who finished 21 points behind Leduc during the regular season.
But according to Oil Kings head coach Greg Stamler, Leduc’s 24-7-3 record doesn’t mean much once the puck drops on playoff hockey.
“The regular season means nothing now,” Stamler told the Leduc Representative last week. “Now it’s the playoffs and the intensity is going to increase by 20-30 per cent.”
While the offence was pedestrian for the Oil Kings – their 122 goals scored were only ninth best in the AMHL – it was the defence that carried the team to first place; Leduc was one of just three teams to allow less than 100 goals (86, third fewest) and netminders Brett Zarowny and Kevin Verhoeff both finished in the top 10 in goals against average.
Zarowny, who was selected to start for the North Division in the AMHL All-Star Game, posted the second-best GAA at 2.05, while also finishing second in the league in wins (13) and save percentage (.924) and first in shutouts (five).
“Goaltending wins series,” Stamler told the Representative. “We’ve got a couple guys who played good this year and we’re going to need them to step it up in the playoffs.”
On the offensive side of the puck, Hayden Dawes was Leduc’s leader with 40 points (24 goals, 16 assists), although that total was good for only 13th in the AMHL. Overall, the Oil Kings had just two players in the top 40 of league scoring; in addition to Dawes, Kord Pankewicz (15-22-37) finished 20th.
The series against Fort Saskatchewan is just the first step towards what the Oil Kings hope will be a long playoff run, repeating the effort of the last Alberta team to host the TELUS Cup – in 2007, Red Deer won the AMHL and Pacific Region championships en route to a silver medal at the national championship.
“We’re not even thinking about the TELUS Cup,” said Stamler. “We’re thinking about winning our league and we want to go through the front door, not the back.”
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